Multimodal Mondays: Researching and Writing Personal Archives

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Bohannon_Pic.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Jeanne Bohannon (see end of post for bio).  This post was guest edited by students David Hanberry, Matthew Harlos, and Jordan Jackson.

My mini-theme this semester, both in teaching and writing, has been the idea of  comfort zones (Multimodal Mondays: Finding Our Comfort Zones in the New Year...and maybe even breaking out of them!...Multimodal Mondays: Finding Our Comfort Zones in the New Year...and maybe even breaking out of them!.  Too often, those of us who practice digital pedagogy in writing studies take up our pom-poms and cheer loudly for every new tool that comes across our radar.  We loudly proclaim the multiple benefits of digital tools, sometimes at the expense of our students and colleagues, who may not share our unabashed endorsements.  When we get to the crux of the matter, however, those tools are just that – utensils that we employ. How we work with our students and colleagues to develop shared production of knowledge(s) is, I think, more important than the tools we use to initiate the invention in the first place. 

What follows is a reflective assignment that might shine a light on meaningful, multimodal re/mixes of research and writing, produced with an old school tech tool, our good friend the BLOG.  By looking backwards in our multimodal composing practice, I think we can encourage colleagues to experiment with tools within their own comfort zones.

Context for Assignment

My technical communications majors and I are currently working on primary research that begins in the archives.  So far, we have discussed situating ourselves as writers within discourses, beginning with our home communities. Our first major writing task was to research artifacts from a personal archive, which we defined as any depository of artifacts from an identified community with which we ourselves are connected.

Measurable Learning Objectives for the Assignment

  • Combine visual and textual elements to tell the story of your personal archive
  • Synthesize content-meaning through collaborative, dialogic review
  • Create shared-meaning in digital writing spaces for specific audiences

Background Reading for Students and Instructors

Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed helpful text from Lunsford handbooks. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.

Assignment Guidelines

We crowd-sourced the following task list.  We would encourage other instructors and students to do the same to make your project unique to your class.

  1. In a whole group discussion, students examine their roles as researchers and writers in various communities.
  2. Students choose a specific community (family, school, social, etc.) and investigate various customs and their associated artifacts within that community.
  3. Select one artifact based on individual or group research.
  4. Break-down sensory rhetorics, such as visuality and tactility for the artifact, providing a rich description and backstory.
  5. Tell (narrate) the artifact’s story based on experiences within a specific community that students self-identified for the assignment.
  6. Re/mix the story in a digital environment using meaningful digital tools.  We used blogs, but others might find wikis, forums, e-books, or even social media platforms relevant.
  7. Publish the text for audiences both in and outside of the classroom and reflect on comments received by individual writers as a contemplative group activity.

Reflections on the Assignment from Our Group

Click on the hyperlinks to go to the blog posts for each writer’s archive

Bohannon_group 1.jpgJordan's Personal Archive: I researched unmasking ceremonies among Pan-Hellenic Greek Councils.  As a member of the Greek community, I was interested in discovering artifacts and the backstories behind specific fraternity chapters’ traditions regarding these masks.  The method I used to create this project was definitely an in-depth research process. It allowed me to open my eyes a lot more to the often-overlooked traditions that create community among social groups like fraternities. Having been able to locate the conceptualized mask within my specific chapter has only driven me to go out and view other masks, with the hopes of gaining insight to those who wore them.

Bohannon_group 2.jpgMatthew’s Personal Archive: When writing this project I was forced to look at my possessions in a much different light. I had to see that the objects that I once only considered curiosities or trinkets were in fact histories of myself. The object that I chose for the project was a 1943 silver half-dollar that was given to me by my grandfather. He had carried the coin for years when he was in the military during the 1950’s, stationed in Alaska in defense of any attempted Soviet aggression. So while this coin doesn’t have much historical or monetary value, it does have great symbolic value to me as a connection to my grandfather, and therefore, to my family as a whole.

Bohannon_group 3.jpgDavid's Personal Archive: The process behind this project was a very enlightening experience for me as a writer. Through the research of my family’s archive I found an 18th-century tome describing the history of Geneva from the early 1700s. As it turned out, this book happened to be gifted to my grandfather by Pope John Paul II at an International gathering of religious leaders. It’s interesting to think that so much history was just sitting alone in a dusty basement at my parents’ house.

Bohannon's Reflection on Doing the Assignment:
As English and Writing Departments navigate the digital wave that has defined our growth for at least a decade (see McGrath: Negotiating Access to New Media), we need to keep in mind that our students' voices should count in decisions regarding how we work through digital invention heuristics and collaboratively – democratically –  make meaning in our texts. Researching and writing for multimodal environments using personal experience as invention creates meaningful opportunities for student-scholars to grow their rhetorical prowess.  This type of assignment also gives them the power to write their personal stories and share them with digital publics, providing a value that students want others to enjoy.

From our group: "We invite instructors and students to modify assignment instructions, tag us in the Macmillan Community, and let us know how your project goes!"

Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor of English at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth through authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, democratic pedagogies, and New Media practices, while growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: and


About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.